Haiti, the original debt

The visit on 17 February, Nicolas Sarkozy in Haiti, the first by a French head of state since independence in 1804 at the expense of France, led to a curious distance dialogue between the presidents of both countries. For President Rene Preval, the page of colonization, having regard to the Haitians, is indeed round, both politically and psychologically. Nicolas Sarkozy, he has lent to a rather surprising year from a man not prone to “repentance” when it comes to talking about the colonial past of France. “Our presence here, ‘he said, did not leave good memories.” Then he spoke about the conditions of separation between the two states, adding, “Even if I do not have started my term at the time of Charles X, I am still responsible in the name of France. ”

Going back to Charles X, it is clear that the French president was talking about the now famous independence debt, subject these days for a petition demanding repayment for the reconstruction of Haiti devastated by the earthquake of January (1 ). What is it about?

A country ostracized nations

We are in 1825. After two decades of negotiations to try to bring in one form or another, the former French colony of Santo Domingo in the lap of the metropolis Paris has understood that he had to give it up. Caught between the settler lobby hurry to recover movable property, slaves and property, and the loan merchants to start from scratch to avoid losing the lucrative market of “the richest colony in the world,” Charles X, just installed on the throne, slice.

In an order dated April 17, 1825, he “concedes” the young state independence against an indemnity of 150 million gold francs to compensate the former colonists and the assurance of privileged trade in favor of France.

Haitians are shocked. First, they are independent of fact since 1 January 1804, after defeating the powerful expedition Leclerc / Rochambeau came to restore slavery in the colony. The independence they have already paid the price of their blood. Then the required amount far exceeds the financial reality of the country, ruined by years of war. Never mind! Paris is ready to assist the Haitian government in France to find a loan for “suitable conditions”. “You should insist even wrote the Minister of Marine, Count Chabrol, bearer of the order, so that it does Adressat for this object to any other country.”

To get Haitians to accept “the most generous pact which the present time is an example,” Charles X has strong arguments. He escorted the order by an armada of 14 warships armed with 528 guns. In case of refusal, according to the Minister of Marine, Haiti will be “treated as an enemy by France,” whose squadron “is ready to establish the most rigorous blockade before the harbors of the island.” At the head of a country ostracized nations, under pressure from other of the former metropolis, and unable to renew the war effort that led to independence, Haitian President Jean-Pierre Boyer sign.

It agreed to settle, in five annual installments of 30 million doubled the allowance of a 50% discount on tariffs for all ships flying the French flag. The $ 150 million gold francs, in fact, represents the equivalent of a year of income of the colony around the Revolution, 15% of the annual budget of France. The first loan of 30 million repayable in twenty-five years, and is signed on the Paris market at the rate of 6% per annum. After deducting fees and premiums, the Haitian State perceives that 24 million to which must be added another 6 million of its own funds to honor the first milking.

He thus sets up a complex financial game that the young nation will hang like a millstone on over one hundred twenty-five years. An example based on the calculation of fees, premiums, interest, and capital, and a possible payment in time, only the first loan amounted to an effective amount of 81 million gold francs. This is what historians call “the double independence debt” to the French government to compensate the former colonists and those with Parisian bankers. But the economic situation of the country after years of war and a blockade, in fact, is no longer that of the thriving colony of twenty years ago. Moreover, for fear of the return of French, its leaders have engaged in military construction major detrimental to the establishment of development infrastructure.
The new state even more difficult to repay the debt, at Le Havre, the price of coffee, the main income of the country is falling. In five years, it went from 140 to 85 francs 100 pounds. In response, Boyer says “national debt” and creates the compensation to pay a specific tax that will weigh particularly on the peasant masses. Similarly, attempts to reduce the standard of living of the state, without sacrificing the extreme militarization of the country. The reason? The regular threats from the former metropolis at the difficulties of Haiti in meeting time drafts and renegotiation requests the amount of compensation. We are in a stalemate.

France controls the country’s finances

In 1838, the two countries finally reached an agreement. Louis-Philippe I, less intransigent than Charles X sign two new treaties with the former French colony of Santo Domingo. For the first, His Majesty the King “recognizes” the full independence of the Republic of Haiti. The second is lowering the outstanding balance of compensation, thus passes 60 million. In total, the compensation has been of 90 million gold francs that Haitians will end up paying in 1883. To get there, we had to develop a complex banking system through which France has controlled the finances of the country until the US occupation of 1915. however, the various loans and interest among French banks and étasuniennes to adjust the “independence debt” will definitely result in 1952.

In the opinion of historians, the payment of this “double debit”, without being the only cause, has weighed heavily on the catastrophic situation of the country. That is, one imagines, what thought President Sarkozy, referring to Charles X and speaking of responsibility “in the name of France.” Of course, the approach of the politician will never equal the free generosity of the French people has shown during the earthquake of 12 January. We dare still hope that this curious practice of “repentance” is intended not only to position France on the market for the reconstruction of Haiti, which opens on March 31 in New York.

(1) “Liberation” of 19 February. Read: “Haiti and France: 1804-1848, the dream is broken” by Jean-François Brière, Karthala, 2008.

“A century of financial relations between Haiti and France (1825-1922)” by François Blancpain, Harmattan, 2001.